How Stress Affects The Skin
Stress is something most of us are familiar with. According to certain studies, one third of Americans are living with extreme stress. To add to that, nearly half of Americans believe that their stress has increased over the past five years. Unfortunately, as well as the overwhelming feeling that comes with stress, it can also cause skin rashes, hair loss, soft nails, acne and more. Stress can affect almost every aspect of our life but today we’re focussing on the effect on our skin.
How Stress Affects Your Skin
When stressed, a chemical response is triggered in our body that makes the skin more sensitive and reactive. This is at the heart of problems such as Acne where the culprit is usually excessively oily skin. As stress levels increase, our body creates a chemical known as cortisol. We’ll be the first to tell you that high cortisol levels are the last thing we want! These high levels of cortisol encourage our body to produce more sebum (oil) from the sebaceous glands. As the oil levels increase on our skin, the chances of acne rise.
It is not just acne that stress exacerbates either. Many common skin problems such as psoriasis, rosacea and eczema are known to worsen due to stress. Hives, skin rashes and even cold sores can also rise when we are stressed.
Stress and Inflammation
Although oily skin is a definite problem, perhaps the worst thing stress does is cause inflammation. This leaves us with puffy, red skin, dryness and just about any other bad symptom you can think of.
However, there is some interesting science behind stress and inflammation. It is now widely understood that there is a deep and powerful connection between the mind, skin and gut. Due to stress, digestion in the gut can slow down which in turn affects the vitally important bacteria that we need to keep things moving.
When our gut slows down, it allows time for unhealthy bacteria to grow and can create an imbalance in our natural gut microbes – this leads to an issue known as Dysbioisis. When this happens, your intestines can become what they call ‘leaky’ causing a complete cascade of inflammation throughout the body.
Due to this inflammation the skin may begin to break out in acne or psoriasis and eczema flare-ups.
The Mind-Skin Connection
As we begin to explore our mental health more frequently, we begin to appreciate the effect our mind can have on the skin. As previously mentioned, stress directly increases cortisol, which in turn increases the amount of oil our skin produces. It can also affect our gut and this ultimately leads to inflammation of the body and skin.
In a new field that experts are calling “psychodermatology” the focus on mental health and the effect on our skin has never been greater. Karen Mallin, PsyD discussed this connection at great length by highlighting the many different levels that our mind connects to our skin. First and foremost, many of our nerve endings are connected to the skin and they wrap around our organs. As emotions are played out neurologically they can be expressed through the skin. Just as stress can be expressed through gastrointestinal symptoms, increased anxiety or hypertension.
This connection can be seen clearly in autoimmune diseases such as Alopecia and Vitiligo where scientists now look for stressful events in the patients’ life that can or may have triggered the autoimmune reaction.
By aiming to treat these underlying psychological problems, which are understood to affect 30% of all dermatology patients, we could see better treatment for skin rash, disease and acne sufferers in the future.
Kirsten Storms Stress
A clear example of how stress can impact us all no matter who we are. Beloved starlet Kirsten Storms had to take a break from ABC’s General Hospital. As the soap opera embarked on it 105th episode on Monday, Kirsten Storms (Maxie Jones at GH) tweeted out “I’m taking a little break from work due to some skin issues I’m having.” The breakout was stress induced. No doubt being an actress is no walk in the park, but you might wonder: Why is stress related to her skin issues? As mentioned above, it is likely to be an increase in chemicals and an imbalance that has caused her outbreak.
Back in 2016, Kirsten opened up about how stress was impacting her skin:
The latest tweet on Kirsten Storms’ account (@teenystweeting):
— Kirsten Storms (@teenystweeting) May 29, 2016
How To Treat Stress Induced Skin Rash
While it’s hard to reduce stress levels, there are some ways you can maintain your skin’s health despite being under pressure.
Wash your face with a mild cleanser and warm water.
Drink lots of water
Take a few deep breaths to calm down
Brew a cup of herbal tea at the end of a stressful day
Work out and ditch some inflammation-causing toxins while you’re at it
Use oil-free, fragrant-free products
Ask a dermatologist for more information
In all, skin rashes, autoimmune diseases and beyond have a deep connection to our mental wellbeing. Here at First Derm, we have the AI technology and dermatologists to check on your skin rashes and give you advice on treatments. As reflected on in this article it may also be worth looking at potential stressors and triggers that could also be affecting your skin.
Specialist doctor from the University Hospital in Gothenburg, alumnus UC Berkeley. My doctoral dissertation is about Digital Health and I have published 5 scientific articles in teledermatology and artificial intelligence.